Run for Joy

Happy New Year! It’s really sweet to be with you and bring in the New Year with this message. I am crazy about making resolutions. Even if it’s not New Year’s, I’m making resolutions all the time. I make them in my sleep. I’m a lot better at making them than completing them. I don’t know if you are like me, but I want to commend to you a resolution for 2018 that I hope will be at the top of your list of resolutions. It is this: Run and train for joy like an Olympian.

That’s my charge for us this year, 2018, as a family. It’s rooted in my desire for good. I want us to be happy in 2018. I want it to be the happiest year we have ever had and that happiness may look very different for each one of us, but that’s what God wants for us. He wants us to be joyful this year and so, I want us to run for joy.

To orient ourselves, let me tell you where we’re going. First of all, I’m going to start with the context in Hebrews. What’s the main point? What’s the main question that the author of Hebrews is trying to answer?

Then, I’m going to give a quick overview. What’s the big picture of Hebrews 12:1-2, which will be our main passage. If you don’t have your Bibles open, I encourage you to turn to Hebrews 12:1-2. We’re going to be looking at that text carefully.

Then after I set that context, we’re going to spend careful time unpacking the questions:

  • What is the call?
  • What is this race we’re called to?
  • What are the four ways that we can run with endurance?
  • What is the great motivation that we have to keep running? What are the two motivators given to us in this text?

What is the call?

Starting off, have you ever wondered what the Book of Hebrews is about? It’s kind of a daunting letter because it is full of Old Testament imagery and a lot of things that can be confusing and scary, but the main point is this: Jesus is better. And the main question: Is Jesus worth it?

These Christians were under persecution. They were under trial and their hearts were getting hard. They were doubting if this was worth it. They were losing their possessions. It was not comfortable for them. They were going against the stream of culture and they were wondering, “Should I continue this way? Is Jesus really worth it?”

The answer over and over again by the author of Hebrews is a resounding, “Yes! Jesus is worth it, so endure to the end. Jesus is worth it, so persevere.”

That’s the main picture and the main point of Hebrews: Jesus is worth it, so persevere.

In Hebrews 12:1-2, the basic idea is this: the saints of old, saw in Jesus a hope and a joy that was far better than anything that they could imagine on this earth in their age, so they pressed forward despite all persecutions and everything coming against them. Through all the storms of life, they pressed forward with hope and faith, trusting in the coming Kingdom—the coming promise—that is greater.

So then, with that context—that Jesus and these saints of old in Hebrews 11 did it—the author is saying, “Now, let’s go. Let’s do it. Let’s take off everything that slows us down, everything that hinders us, and let’s press forward, setting our gaze on Jesus and running with endurance.”

That’s the big picture. That’s where we’re heading, so let’s unpack this.

 What is this race we’re called to run?

How do we run this race with endurance and what’s the great motivation that will keep us going? Hebrews 12:1 talks about, “…the race that is set before us…” What is this “race” that is set before us? It is basically to keep the faith until the end. In other words, “…the race that is set before us…” is to be faithful in following Jesus through the storms of life, trusting that Jesus is worth it.

Every one of us has a different race—a different course—some are longer, some are shorter, some are harder, some are easier, but all of us are called to endure to the end.

The author calls to us, “…let us run with endurance…” Notice, he doesn’t just say, “let us run” or “let us walk,” but “…let us run with endurance.”

Look at [Hebrews 12:] 2-3 in your Bibles to see if you can find the word “endure” in any other form. In verse two it says Jesus “endured the cross.” In verse three it says, “Consider Him Who endured…” the hostility, the persecution. The author is trying to make this parallel: the same way Jesus endured the sufferings of the cross, the same way Jesus has endured the persecution and hostilities, so we too endure the race. The bar has been set very high very quickly, pushing against the trap of easy-believe-ism that we may fall into. Jesus never promised the Christian life—this race of faith—would be easy. In fact, He uses words like “endure” and He compares it to His own sufferings on the cross.

The question is: How do we do this? How do we run with endurance? This sermon would be woefully terrible if I just said, “Alright now, let’s go run. Work hard. Do it. We’re Americans. Pull up your bootstraps.”

What are the four ways that we can run with endurance?

Four ways are given in this text to help us run with endurance:

1.     We have to have the mindset of an Olympic runner. This whole passage has this sense of an Olympic race.

 All of us have probably seen a race in the Olympics. If you’re a runner you know that one of the greatest things you could ever accomplish is running for your country in The Olympics, but to get there takes a life of sacrifice. Not a season of sacrifice, a life of sacrifice. Everything about your life is centered around, “How can I get faster?” These runners discipline themselves. They carefully watch and count their calories. They are careful about who they spend their time with. They monitor their sleep. They do everything. They’re crazy; all consumed with this idea of running that race.

I believe for us to run the race of faith, we have to have a similar mindset. So I want to welcome you to take a detour to 1 Corinthians 9. In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Paul gives us a verse very similar to this Hebrews passage that I think will bring some illumination:

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

If you’re familiar with the different events in The Olympics, you know there is one race called the hundred-meter. The world record is 9.27 seconds and that is really, really impressive to me. My record may be 18 seconds. I don’t even know, but as impressive as the Olympic record is, it is equally depressing when I think about it. Those runners who don’t know Jesus spend their whole life sacrificing, doing whatever they can, disciplining themselves night and day; fighting so that they can get faster all so that one day they can run for a few seconds and then it’s over. If they’re really good, maybe they’ll come back in four years and run some other races and win, but at the end of the day when they die, they don’t take those medals with them. They don’t take the Wheaties box with them. They don’t keep all that stuff. It’s gone. It’s over.

Now, I’m not disregarding the value of running. Keep running. I’m not disregarding that or The Olympics. You can certainly run to the glory of God like Eric Liddell, right? So, I’m not doing that. What I’m arguing is the lesser to the greater and Paul just did that in 1 Corinthians 9. He talks about this “perishable wreath” or this perishable medal, but we’re running for something better, one that’s “imperishable.” You can’t melt this. You can’t lose this. You take it when you die.

The race that we are running is infinitely more important than The Olympics. It doesn’t merely have repercussions on this side of eternity, but forever. It echoes into eternity. It’s a race that if you do not finish, you do not live. It is infinitely more valuable, more important.

When I look at my life and compare the discipline I have and the way I run with Jesus with an Olympic athlete and the way they discipline their lifestyle, I wonder, “What am I running for? Do I really believe that what I’m running for is more valuable than the medal they’re running for?” You can compare my lifestyle to the way they live their lives. Which one looks like they really believe what they say they believe? Which one looks like it really matters to them? Does my life display and witness to the whole world that I’m running for something greater than this world?

You see, if I really believe in what this Bible says about what I’m running for—these infinite riches that I have coming for me, this infinite relationship with Jesus—then I should be smoking any Olympic athlete when it comes to discipline and the way I live my life. Right?

I ask, does your life demonstrate that you’re running this race with eternal implications? We all know that anything worthwhile takes training, but I’m convinced that many of us here, including myself, want the life, but we don’t want the lifestyle. So, you see people like Zach and Sarah. They’re just jacked and strong and healthy. As you look at them you think, “Man, I want to be like them. I’m going to be like them in 2018.”

Then they say, “Oh, you want to wake up early with me every morning?”

“No, I hate waking up in the morning.”

“You want to work out?”

“No, I don’t like working out. I just want the body. Give me one of those belts that I can just watch TV and eat Cheez-Its and just get stronger, right?” I have tried to buy those before. I’m not going to lie.

Or, you meet someone who’s really well read and you walk away thinking, “I want to be more well read like that person. It seems like they read everything. They’ve thought through everything and they are like, “Hey, do want to join this book club?”

“I hate reading. I can’t join a book club. Are you crazy? I just want to be like Neo in the Matrix. Just download all of this information and make me smarter.”

Or maybe you meet a spiritual giant that you know walks with Jesus. They have a sweetness in their walk with Jesus that you want and yearn for. There’s a godliness in them. There’s a steadfastness. There’s patience. There’s character and you wish you were like them. You want that and then they say, “Hey, do you want to pray with me?”

“Praying? Get out of here!”

“Do you want to come to Community Group and get involved? Do you want to be part of our Community Group? Do you want to serve?”

“I don’t do that.”

“Do you want to read your Bible?”

“No, I don’t do that.”

You see, I think a lot of us want the right things; we just don’t want the lifestyle that is required to attain the right things. I’m not shaming you. This is me. This is me all the time. I’m very ambitious for all these things that I want and I would imagine that many of us are really good at something like a craft, a hobby or work. I wonder what it would look like if we put kind of intentionality into our walk with Jesus?

I’ve observed many professing Christians treat this race of faith like a lazy river. Do you know what a lazy river is? I love lazy rivers. When you’re on vacation and go to one of these indoor places in Minnesota, you get one of these nice floaties, put yourself in the floatie, lay down and what do you do? Nothing. Just let the current take you. Just float around. Sadly, I feel that a lot of professing Christians are like that. We just go with the flow. There’s no intentionality. We just kind of let it take us.

So, my call for us this year is to run and train for this joy like an Olympian. I know there are common objections to what I say. Maybe you are wondering, “I’m getting nervous. It sounds like you’re getting legalistic. Did you listen to the sermons about the Reformation that we just celebrated? You’re at a Lutheran Church with a giant statue of Martin Luther.”

I understand that temptation, but let me read a quote from Dallas Willard, a popular author:

The path of spiritual growth in the riches of Christ is not a passive one. Grace is not opposed to effort. It is opposed to earning. Effort is action. Earning is an attitude.

I’m not talking about training in order to get God to like us, love us or even accept us. If you have trusted in Christ, if He’s your Lord, Savior and Treasure, you are as accepted as you ever will be. You’re His. You’re working from a place of guaranteed acceptance, not needing to earn it. You’re like my son, Elijah. No matter what he does, he is my son. He cannot be more accepted than he is right now. So, let me just squash any ideas you have like, “If I just do more quiet times and read my Bible, then God will be happy.” No, He’s already happy with you. He’s singing over you according to Zephaniah 3:17. He loves you. He delights in you.

That’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about fulfilling the mission that He’s given us. We’re talking about what it takes to persevere against the onslaughts of the world, Satan and the flesh. We’re talking about nearness to Him; intimacy with Him.

However, if you don’t ever train, if you don’t ever spend time with Jesus, if that’s not in your heart, then I would ask you, is your heart hard? Maybe it’s just a season of struggling, but if you normally have a lifestyle of not running—not taking your walk with Jesus seriously—then it’s like the man who says he loves his wife and family, but he just doesn’t care about spending time with them. “I love you. I just don’t like to spend time with you.” If this describes you, then your relationship with Jesus is dysfunctional at best and at worst it’s phony.

At the same time, I want to warn those of you who are actually His to not fight for your acceptance. Maybe you’re not even on the track. Maybe you’re running the opposite way and the Holy Spirit is speaking to you today. If you hear His voice, do not harden your heart. Today’s the day that you need to come to Him and trust Him.

Another objection to this kind of intentional training is the fear of not being authentic.  I don’t know about you, but as a Millennial, I’ve grown up with this sense that everything needs to be spontaneous and authentic for it to be real. For example, I don’t like giving gifts on birthdays. I like giving them the day before or after. I just want to give you a gift; I’m not doing it because it’s your birthday or Christmas. I’ve had to learn to grow and change—and soften—in this area. I’m getting better at liturgy which is not spontaneous. I really value liturgy with all its routines and recognize now that it is authentic.

That same mentality can get into our Bible reading. “I don’t want to read my Bible because if I do it right now, I wouldn’t be giving God my honest heart because I don’t feel like it. I don’t want to dutifully go through it.” We avoid anything that looks like habit or ritual or training because it’s not authentic, but let me tell you, this is a mistake. We do not spontaneously become mature. There are no such things as healthy, mature relationships that are not intentional. Nobody just wakes up one day with a flourishing, healthy and mature marriage. (Unless you’re a newlywed. But just you wait.)

Therefore, it is imperative for each of us to apply the mindset of the Olympic runner. This mindset changes everything and I pray that we would look at our walk with Jesus like an Olympian would.

2.     The second way to run with endurance is to remove hindrances.

Just like any Olympic athlete, we need to remove hindrances in our life that slow us down. The passage says this: “...let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely…” (Hebrews 12:1). Take note: not just sins. Don’t just lay aside sins, lay aside every weight—everything that gets in the way.

I love how the New Living Translation unpacks this verse. It says, “Let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up.” You see, this verb “putting” off is literally this word “stripping” off. I don’t want to give you bad imagery, but the Greeks would run naked. So, it’s this idea of taking off everything that will slow you down. You want to be as aerodynamic as possible.

This word “any” shows us this author is not thinking of a couple of things. He’s thinking “anything.” Anything that gets in the way; anything that will impede the race or handicap you.

I want to spend a little more time on hindrances and not even talk about sins. Not because I’m saying not to get rid of sins. That’s important, but we’ve heard a lot and read a lot of books about sins.  I think there’s something that we should probably spend more time thinking about—hindrances. Many of us don’t think about hindrances and when I say “us” there is a “me” in there too. I don’t think a lot about hindrances.

We ask questions like these: “What’s wrong with it?” “Is it a sin?” Or, “Is doing ____ a sin?” I’m glad that you are at least asking those questions because some people’s hearts are so hard they don’t even care to ask that anymore. It’s like the youth group kids who came to me when I was a youth pastor and asked, “Hey, how far can we go without it being sin?”

That’s why the Olympic runner who’s caught by his trainer the day before the race stuffing Twinkies in his mouth and says to the trainer, “It’s not illegal. It’s a free country.” That’s the wrong mindset, right? That’s not the point. It’s not that he can’t eat Twinkies; it’s not that you can’t watch Netflix; it’s not that you can’t do these other things that could be hindrances. But that’s the wrong question to be asking. It’s the wrong mindset.

The better question is: “Does it help me run?” It’s not a legalistic question. It’s not a matter of whether I’m accepted by God or not if I do this, but does it help me run? Does it help me fulfill the mission that God has entrusted to me? Does it help me love Him more? Does it help me love people more? Does it help me become more generous and think about others more? Does it help me to become more inward? Does it set my gaze on heavenly places where Christ is seated at the right hand of God the Father? Or do I settle to set my gaze on things here?

What if we were serious about asking these sorts of questions about everything we do? Seriously, what if we did that? Look at your calendar or look at your rhythms. What if you asked the question: “Does this help me run? Does this help me run faster? Does this help me love Jesus more? Does this help me love people more? Does this help me be more kind?” That would be devastating. That would be so scary. Ask anyway. I dare you because there is a joy that’s better than giving up that hindrance.

It’s important to know that not all weights and hindrances are sins and some things that would be a hindrance to you would not be a hindrance for me and vice versa. This is very, very important to note because we can become very, very judgmental; very, very legalistic. “Oh, you do that? Well I don’t do that.” Well, you’re different. We’re all wired differently. We all have different seasons that we’re in; all different paths. So, there are certain things that I can engage in that you shouldn’t and there are certain things that you can engage in that I shouldn’t. Right? I want to make sure we get this because we can have an unhealthy, legalistic culture if we think that all hindrances are the same for all people.

Now, at this point, I do want to recommend Pastor Joe’s book, The Things of Earth: Treasuring God by Enjoying His Gifts, because he helps you carefully think through how to let the things of this earth help you see Jesus instead of distracting you from Jesus, but it takes a lot of work, intentionality and time. This is going to look different for everybody in different seasons, but I want to make sure you read his book in 2018.

I don’t know the answer for you, but I do know this: if our lives are not clearly distinguishable from the world at some level, then something’s terribly amiss. I don’t know how the exact balance is for your life, but I know at least that.  I guarantee if we are intentional about laying aside weights, it’s going to keep us from sins.

To be honest with you, I have a lot of hindrances in my life and here’s a small list:

·     This iPhone is a big hindrance for me.

·     Social media

·     Netflix

·     Staying up late

·     Spontaneous fast food

·     Snacking at night

·     Buying the fastest tech because it’s going to make me more efficient because it’s going to boot up two seconds faster. I’d could do so much more in those two seconds!

I struggle with these things. None of them are inherently wrong and I will get another iPhone one of these days, but if all these hindrances and our Christian liberties are not held in check, usually sin is crouching right around the corner.

I want to highlight one hindrance that many of us struggle with and that’s the war for the eyes. I think many of us are getting our butts kicked in this war for our eyes. This culture makes it extremely hard to set our gaze on Jesus and lay aside hindrances. It is said by marketing experts that the average American is exposed to 4,000 to 10,000 ads or companies a day. Not that you see 10,000 commercials a day, but you are exposed to marketing at some level, conscientiously or unconscientiously. All these ads are clamoring for your attention saying, “Look at me! Look at me! I will make you happy. You’re not happy until you get this thing. You won’t be able to do that until you get this thing. You need me. Look at me! Look at me!” It’s so hard for us; so hard.

Another study says that the average American has 76 separate sessions with his phone a day. On average, you pick up your phone 76 times to do something, whether it’s good or not. I know for all of us it’s just a Bible app, right? But 76 times we’re doing this.

We have a hard road ahead of us. How will our Bibles compete when we have all these things to stimulate us? How can we imagine eternity with the eyes of our hearts when we have things that we can just look at so easily right now? It is hard. What we gaze at is what we’ll move toward. What we look at will dictate what we will become. What we look at when we first wake up will set the tone for our day.

3.     Look to Jesus—“…looking to Jesus…” (Hebrews 12:2)

“Look to Jesus” is a participle. It modifies running. If you want to run according to this passage, look to Jesus. How do you look to Jesus? It’s important to understand that you don’t remove hindrances just to remove hindrances. Just like you don’t fast just to not eat; you fast so you can feast on the Word. We live simple lives so we can be generous, not just to live simple lives. We withhold certain things so that we can look to Jesus. The more we look to Jesus, the easier it will be to lay aside all these weights and sins.

What does it mean to look to Jesus? This “looking to Jesus” can be really ambiguous. Do you just think about Him like a picture or a person?

This phrase “look to” can be understood as relying upon or looking to someone for support or inspiration. So, the eyes of your heart are looking to Him. “I’m relying upon You, Jesus. I need You to keep me. I need You to keep me going.” You look at and consider His life.

Hebrews 12:3 says, “Consider Him…” So, if you want a different word for “look” try the word “consider.” Consider Jesus. Think about Him. Look at Him. If you were to do a Bible study on the phrase “Word of God” you would notice that there’s a handful of times that the Bible equates the Word of God with Jesus. So, if you want to see Jesus most clearly, look at Him through the Bible. Look at Him all the time, not just on Sundays. All the time. Just look at Him. Constantly look at Him.

There’s a way to look at the Bible without looking at Jesus. In John 5, the Pharisees knew the Old Testament by heart, yet He says, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about Me” (John 5:39). So, we must go to this Book, not to check it off a to do list, but to see Christ and respond to Christ.

4.     Run with our church.

How do you run with our church? Note the phrase, “…let us…” (Hebrews 12:1). Not “let you.” Not “now you do it yourself.” “Let us…” It’s a community thing. The author has the community in mind. The Bible almost never speaks to us individually. It primarily speaks to us as a family. “Do this together.”

Community helps you identify the hindrances in your life. We’re often blind to the sins and things that distract us. We also need community to help us look to Jesus as we encourage each other to become more like Jesus. We see Jesus in someone and say, “Oh, you’re becoming more like Jesus. Let’s run toward Him together.”

We need other believers to help us run, just like athletes do better training together. It’s the same thing for our spiritual life.

I want to challenge you in 2018 to press into every structure, everything Cities Church has to offer. Our church has intentional structures. We have three things that we do:

·       You’re part of a Community Group

·       You’re a part of Life Group

·       We have Sunday gatherings

That’s all. We’re a simple church that way and every single one of these is intentional to help us become disciples who make disciples. So, I want to encourage you to press into every structure we have, especially your Life Group. I need my Life Group. They spur me on to run and I need to press into them. You need to press into a Life Group. Ask them, “Help me run this year. Help me find the hindrances in my life. Please be honest with me. I want to humble myself. Would you speak into my life? Then when appropriate, let me speak into your life.” Ask each other and do it together. Do a Bible reading plan together. Fast together. Set apart the first month of January to fast from media maybe, or fast from buying things, saying, “Jesus, this year is Yours. I’m giving You my year. I’m giving You the first fruits of my year.” Do the Mark Bible study together. Then if you want to go further in reading the Bible, Pastor David wrote a blog this last week called “Marry the Bible This Year.” Read that. It’s excellent. He also wrote a book called Habits of Grace.

Our motivation to run. What will keep us going?

Consider this cloud of witnesses.

Hebrews 12:1 starts by saying, “Therefore…” Whenever you see a “therefore” in the Bible, you ask what it’s there for. What is he saying? What did he just say to now be saying this?

In Hebrews 11, there is this whole group of saints the author is pointing back to. Look at their lifestyle. They are called the “cloud of witnesses” and you can think about them as though they are in an amphitheater watching us. This entire cloud of witnesses is like, “Go Sam! Run! You do that!”

Or most scholars would say that they are testifying. They’re witnessing something with their life about Jesus. Witnesses can be understood as spectating something like, “I’m a witness to that accident.”

Look at Hebrews 11:24-25:

24 By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, 25 choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 

Moses regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. At that time, Egypt was the greatest kingdom in the world with the greatest pleasures. So Moses had an opportunity to pick the pleasures or pick the future promises that he could see. If you could put it on a scale, it was like Moses saw the pleasures of Egypt and then the pleasures of Christ. Christ was worthier, so Moses gave his life in a very hard way so that he could have Christ.

The power of considering he saints in Hebrews 11 is not looking at their example as much as it is looking at what they were pointing to. What were they hoping for? Just look at this list of people. A lot of them were big screw-ups. Some of them murdered. Some of them were adulterers. The power is looking at what they put their hope in. How did they keep going even though they went through so much adversity? You see, it’s not about the quality of their faith, but the Object of their faith. What did they set their gaze on?

So, the right thing for us to conclude is “Wow! Jesus is much more worthy and beautiful than I thought. He’s way better and they didn’t even see Him like we’ve seen Him. They saw Him from afar. Just glimpses.”

So the cloud of witnesses cheers us on in one way, but I think they are mainly saying, “Look at Who we were pointing to. It’s going to be worth it. He’s worth it. We see Him now. I’m telling you it’s worth it. Keep running. Don’t give up.”

Look to the life of Jesus— “…the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).

This idea of “founder” is also the word “pioneer.” He was the first One. We’re not the first ones to run this race. He went before us. He lived this life and there’s a temptation for us to say, “He’s Jesus. He’s God. He just did it.”

Let me remind you of Hebrews 4:15-16:

15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

So when we run this race, it is as if Jesus has run it before us, because He has. He finished the race. He’s waiting at the finish line with His nail-scarred hands wide open, saying, “Come on, you can do it. You can do it. Come to Me. You can do it. Set your gaze. Don’t keep looking to the side. Look at Me.”

What did Jesus look at? What kept Him going? The passage says, “…for the joy set before Him…” (Hebrews 12:2). What is this joy? I think the joy was sitting at the right hand of the Father. I think the joy was being obedient. But I also think the joy ultimately was getting us. He desired to have us. The Father and Son decided to send the Son to rescue a bride to make His own. “He came from heaven and sought her.” We are His joy that He was pursuing. The Trinity with this eternal love that the Father had with the Son and the Spirit—this beautiful love triangle—poured out. “We want to give that to someone. I want to bring you into this love.” He wanted that. That was His great joy.

Because He saw that joy, Jesus said, “You know what? I hate this cross. I don’t want the cross. Father, if it be Your will take this cup from me. I don’t want it, but Your will be done.” He didn’t want the cross. He didn’t want the pain. He didn’t want the scourging. He didn’t want the ridicule, but He said, “My joy versus this pain? I choose joy. I want that joy!”

Just like we have to look at joy and say, “You know what? I’m going to say no to this thing that I really want because Jesus has something better for me—joy.” We’re doing the same thing. The question you may immediately ask is, “Isn’t this a future joy only, Sam? Isn’t this just a joy that will come one day, but is not for now?” There are some future joys that are so great that they spill over into the now.

Imagine a slave working at this huge home under a harsh taskmaster who is beating him and treating him like nothing. Then one day, through a series of fairytale-like events, it is discovered that this slave is actually the heir, but because of some weird clause in a cosmic contract he won’t inherit it for another year. So for that year, the taskmaster is beating him even harder, taking everything he has. Yet this slave is smiling, thinking, “I’m going to own all of this. I’ll take that beating. Another please. I’ll take it because I’ve got something way better coming.” Everything changes once he sets his gaze on this future joy, so, the pleasure is at his right hand now.

Psalm 16:11 is this beautiful picture that will come in its fullness one day, but right now it’s overflowing into the now because we’re setting our gaze on Him. It’s coming soon and very soon we’ll see His face. “For now we see [His face] in a mirror dimly, but then face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

If you want a worthwhile New Year’s resolution, determine to run and train for joy like an Olympian. Seek Jesus as if you are an Olympian. Let’s just smoke any Olympian. Beat them in a race by pressing hard into Jesus because we know He has a greater joy for us. Jesus is waiting at the finish line saying, “Come on! In this age of distraction, under many trials, keep your eyes Me. It will be worth it. I know it’s hard, but it will be worth it. If you’re tired, keep looking at Me; it will be worth it.”

You might be thinking, “I’m so tired I don’t feel like running anymore.” Confess it and He will help you. He can sympathize with you. He will give you mercy and grace in your time of need.

The Table

None of this is possible without this Communion table and what it represents. This table represents what Jesus did so that we can be His, so that we can have endless joy and can run after Him with full acceptance.

Let me pray and then we’ll celebrate this Lord’s Supper.

Father, help us. This life is hard. To pursue You is hard. It’s worthwhile, but it’s hard and You know it’s hard. You’re acquainted with all our ways. It is wearisome. There are so many things pulling at our hearts; so many things calling and beckoning for our attention. We need You to help us set our gaze on You this year. I beg of You, God, that You set our gaze on Yourself; will and work in us for Your good pleasure. Help us run with endurance.

Those who have gotten weary and who have quit—who’ve started drifting and walking to the side—bring them back, Lord. Help us be a church that sees those people and goes after them. Help us have the humility to hear from our friends about the hindrances in our lives. Help us be so secure in Your love that we can run hard after You and not try to run for acceptance.

Father, if there is anybody here who doesn’t know You, they’re not even on the track. They’re running against You; they’re right now setting their face against You. We pray that they would run to You. That You would show them that they need You, Jesus.  That You would save them now You promise if anyone calls upon the name of the Lord Jesus, they will be saved and when they call upon You, would You receive them that they would be part of our family?

Thank You so much for these truths. We love You. We want more of You. In Jesus’ name. Amen.